Thursday, January 23, 2020

Books, Books, and More Books!

I am always reading a couple of books and listening to another. If I were smart, I would remember all I've read, but I feel like I come away with a "feeling" of what the book was about rather than a lot of facts and knowledge. This is important to me when we travel. I like to read books about or that take place in the places we will go for our ministry with Emmaus Worldwide so that I know a little something. As I read I absorb a bit of culture, history, and local conventional wisdom, or at least that's the goal.



That's what brought me to my first book this year (actually started
in December of last year): Apples are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared by Christopher Robbins. First of all, I had a laugh about the author's name because, you know, Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, too. For three weeks in January and February my husband and I will be on a ministry trip to Central Asia. One of the countries we will be visiting is Kazakhstan where we have friends who moved there last year to start a business.


Some of the things I learned are that Kazakhstan was never a country prior to 1991. Never. It had been invaded from East, West, North, and South. The people are related in genes and language to other Turkic peoples (like in Turkistan and, yes, Turkey), but because of the Mongols invading they look more east Asian. The first Russian rockets were launched from the "autonomous" region of Kazakhstan and nuclear bombs were tested in an area called Semipalatinsk which is more radioactive than Chernobyl. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was exiled there for a few years, but later fought against Kazakhstan becoming an independent country. And finally, after independence they had only one president for 30 years and he just retired. And apples probably do come from Kazakhstan where one can still find apple trees growing in the wild. So, apparently, I did learn some things!

I also love reading the stories of real people and the things they do. So often as I read and try to put myself in their shoes, I think about
how I could never do the things they have done. Sometimes, when I read about Christians persecuted for their faith, I pray, "Lord, never let me deny You. You know what I can handle. Never give me more than that." On my list of books to read is a book we gave to my father-in-law for Christmas: God's Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance by Andrew Brunson, the pastor who was imprisoned in Turkey for 735 days. My father-in-law read it in two days. Although I snuck a preview of the first chapter, I'm saving it for when we get back from our trip to Central Asia.


In the category of both our trip and biography, I have the book Benazir Bhutto by Brooke Allen I just started this, and so far it is interesting and not just a syncophantic book about a fearless woman in a difficult position. This is one of the books I got from Amazon Kindle Unlimited. For Christmas, I gave my mother six months of Kindle Unlimited. Since we share the same Kindle account, I benefit from this too. Actually, as I have perused the books available, I have been somewhat disappointed. The kind of books I enjoy are not readily available, but my mom's Christian fiction is, so she's enjoying it. 


In addition to reading, I love listening to books when doing mundane housework or driving the car. I have been able to listen to
some enjoyable books from the Kindle Unlimited selection: Where the Desert Meets the Sea: A Novel by Werner Sonne about the founding of the nation of Israel. From my point of view it was very even handed showing the hardships that time held for both the Jews and the Palestinians. I'd recommend it. Another was Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin. This is a novel based on a true event of the Turkish Ambassador or Consul to France during WWII providing a train for Turkish citizens to get back to Turkey safely. The thing
was, there were Turkish Jews and non-Turkish Jews in that train. The latter group had been given false passports to save their lives. It was only one overloaded train carriage of people, but some were saved. I had never heard of that and found it very interesting. 


I also listened to the true story of Masaji Ishikawa (apparently a pen name)--A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea. It is a sad story. Interestingly he talks about the many times
he has been "born again"--either started an entirely new life or was rescued from death--but sadly, he has not been born again into faith in Jesus Christ. As I finished the book I found myself praying that he would come to Christ for salvation.


Through my library I've also listened recently to the Yada Yada series by by Neta Jackson and the Mitford Series by Jan Karon (which I had read when they first came out in the 90s). Although I'm not normally a fan of Christian fiction, I found these books encouraging to my prayer life.

Finally, other books I have going are The Story of the King: Kingdom Without End by Paul Bramson. This is the first book in the Mile Marker Series by Emmaus Worldwide. It is so well written and simple yet deep! My prayer for this year is that I will be able to go through this with a non-Christian. And I am slowly going through an old book, Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray, originally published in 1864. My copy of this book has an inscription to my mother-in-law:

To Helena 
Christmas 1950
with love, 
Joann
May you enjoy this as much as I have

The book is divided up into thirty-one daily readings to learn about and how to put into practice what it means to abide in Christ, one of the goals of my life. I don't have time to read one everyday during my devotions, but I want to go through it meditatively. 


These are nineteen or more books (counting each book in the two series) I can recommend to get you started reading this year! I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do and I would love to hear your recommendations to put on my list of future reading!
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As always, I think reading to your kids from good books is a great connection builder, values teacher, and education stimulater. Of these books I would definitely think you could read to your middle aged kids (8-15) the story of Andrew Brunson. What a great way to teach them about their faith and how to stand up for Christ no matter the cost! The Story of the King would work wonderfully as devotions with children as young as 5 on up. Just do a couple of paragraphs a night and use the questions at the end of the chapter to spark discussion. Some of the others might be good, too, but read them first so you can filter any scenes you might not want to expose young children to.

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For more of my book suggestions click here.


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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Why Kids Need to be Taught Right


Years ago I was subbing as a para-professional in a middle school when the student I was helping flew into a temper tantrum when we arrived at a class he didn't like. As a sub, I was asked to step away and they called in a counselor to deal with him. Eventually the rest of the students were moved into the hallway so the counselor and one misbehaving student could have privacy. Not knowing exactly what was expected of me, I watched the scene (and it was a scene!) through the classroom window. That’s when another regular para came up beside me and whispered, "His parents have never made him do anything he didn't want to. They have never taught him what is right." 



I have to admit that I was thinking the same thing, but I was surprised she would voice it in a public school. I pondered what "teaching what is right" had to do with "doing things you don't want to do.”  Then it struck me, we often have to do something we don't want to do -  whether it is homework, taking out the garbage, cleaning up after someone's vomit, or saying, "I'm sorry.”  But these things are the “right thing” to do.

Why should we do what is right? And why should we want to do what is right? The short answer is, because of God. We are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). We are exhorted by Paul in Ephesians 4:24,  “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (NIV) God placed in us a knowledge of right, or righteousness, to do what is right because we are made in His image, in His likeness. But the knowledge He placed there has been corrupted by sin in the world and in our lives, so doing what is right now has to be learned; it is no longer our natural bent.

How can we get back to the foundation for knowing what is right? Again, the short, and definitive, answer is God. Of course we can't measure up completely to the holiness and righteousness of God, but we can use it as our measuring stick. One definition of the Greek word often translated "righteous" in our English Bibles is "straight." This gives me the mental picture of God being an absolutely straight line against which I need to measure my behavior. He is our unbending standard.

There is an absolute right, just as there are things that are absolutely wrong. We need to teach this to our children so that they will do what is right. But the reason they should want to do what is right is because God is righteous. God wants us to imitate Him. He has made us in His image and wants us to emulate His character. This means more to Him than any possible sacrifice we could make for Him. "To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3)

If you think about it, sometimes doing what is right is a huge sacrifice to our own desires and pride, even if it is as simple as picking up the paper that missed the trash can. Our children need to be taught "right" because God is righteous. If they learn about God, then they are learning what is right. Sometimes they miss the God lesson and we do need to "make them do it even if they don't want to,” because it is right.  If we teach them this, then when they are older, they will know the right thing to do and the reason for doing it, and hopefully they will choose to do right as well.

Our children are watching us to see if we have learned to live out God’s right. If they see it in us, they are more likely to make the right choices when we aren’t telling them to. I remember my dad often giving extra change back to cashiers when he had calculated faster and more accurately than they. He exemplified right by not taking what was not his. Once as a teenager I made plans with an acquaintance when a good friend called. She offered me an extra concert ticket to see my favorite Christian artist. I was tempted to dump my first commitment and go. But then I remembered that she who walks in integrity and righteousness “swears to their own hurt and does not change.” (Psalm 15:4) I missed the concert, but was learning the lesson.

These days we attend the same church as our sons and their families and I’m proud to see them faithfully bringing their families to church, midweek meetings too, and watching them train up their children in what is right in a better way than my husband and I parented them.

God is righteous. We bring Him glory by behaving in His image, by doing right. Our example will prompt others to seek to be more like Him as well. 

That’s right!




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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Why Kids Need to Be Taught Wrong


"I don't see what good it is sitting on a chair for two minutes. My dad just talked to me until I realized something was 'stupid.' Then I didn't do it any more,"  said a young father I was talking with about how he thought he should raise his daughter. I had suggested that wrong actions should have consequences, and he didn’t agree. Do you? I watched as he followed his father's example of using hundreds of words, where I thought a simple explanation and some action (such as a time-out) would have far more effect in the short term and, especially, in the long run. 

I mentally reacted negatively to his plan, but at first I didn't realize why. Then I started thinking about it.

“Stupid” means showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense, such as: When someone acts without any self control, like flying off the handle and hitting a store clerk over a simple mistake. Or acting confident in their own ignorance, like cheating on a test and copying wrong answers as well as correct ones. Or just absentmindedly driving away from a gas pump without taking the nozzle out of their tank opening. These are things people consider "stupid". But are they only stupid? Or is there wrong, and even sin, in some of these actions?  

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A short definition of “wrong” is unjust, immoral, or dishonest. I think it might be easier to give examples of what doesn't make something “right or wrong.” What if the majority of people think something is right? Is that the deciding factor? Is that what makes it right? There are remote societies where cannibalism is still accepted. Is it right or wrong? How about if something is legal? In some countries it is legal for a husband to beat his wife. Right or wrong? A person might argue that they didn't know their action was wrong. Is a person who drives at 50 mph in a 25 mph zone, but didn't know the speed limit, wrong? What about changing values? It was considered wrong, even illegal, for a man or woman to sleep with someone who was not their spouse throughout history until about 50 years ago. As we have been exposed more and more to this behavior, it has not only come to be accepted, but even considered "right". A person who remains a virgin until marriage is considered "sexually immature." Most of you reading this post will agree with me that these behaviors are wrong, and not just stupid.

Why do I argue in favor of teaching a child what is wrong?  Because after thinking it through for a while, I realized that "stupid" and "wrong" are very different. Some things, some actions are wrong. The Bible differentiates right from wrong. God has a moral code and has given us precepts of right and wrong. In fact, God has instilled in humans a self-awareness of right and wrong. The Bible calls it conscience. The same young man I was talking to does not believe in abortion. “Why not?” I asked him. “Because it is not right. I have no right to take the life of another.” Good answer. But it just put him in my camp!

If we don't teach our children that sometimes what they are doing is wrong, how will they learn about sin? And if they don't understand sin and its consequences, why would they ever need a Savior? Simultaneously, teaching them what is “right” reveals to them the nature of God who gives us the ability to imitate Him - be right - or become the “righteousness of God” if you want to delve into theology, 2 Cor.5:21. Teaching a child “right” and “wrong” from a young age and the respective positive and negative results will prepare the child for a wonderful life. 


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